We’ve all been known to tempt fate, going a bit too far for the euphoria of a thrill. It’s another thing entirely, though, when your professional ego sits in the balance.
Dr. Barbara Sanders, professor of anthropology at The University of Tulsa, sits in her dimly lit but well-decorated family room, bourbon in hand. Close friends and family are scattered around, making light conversation before the main event starts. In front of the doctor lies a closed MacBook Pro, the centerpiece for tonight’s festivities. Downing the rest of her drink in one gulp, she draws the attention of the spectators. “OK, let’s do this.”
What Barbara and her family are doing is a growing tradition among college professors, organizing a party around opening their “Rate My Professors” page for the first time. It’s a gruelling practice, and one that is often unforgiving; rarely do you find pleasantries or fair review on the website. Still, educators often remain unfazed , determined to open themselves to the knowledge and brutal honesty of students gifted with anonymity.
The website, which is based off the premise of allowing students who just received low grades a forum to rant where they feel they’re heard, is a staple of college campuses across the world. The whining students have the option to give professors overall as well as difficulty ratings on a 1-5 scale. The website is not so sophisticated, however, to stick to topics of education. Below the other ratings is the website’s trademarked “hotness meter.” In this section, students can specify whether or not they consider their professor physically attractive, with the amount of “yes’s” filling a hot pepper icon. For some professors, this result is more damaging than whatever their overall score may be.
A professor viewing their page, of course, is nothing new. Some even make a point to have regular check-ups, excitingly waiting for incoming reviews as they would a tabloid. What is new is organizing parties around the event of first viewing the ratings. The practice lends circumstance to the occasion, as well as providing moral support for the professor making the leap.
“It’s a significant step in your teaching career,” Dr. Sean Laughlin reflected on the practice. “It makes sense to add some pomp around the whole affair.” Behind his desk hangs a framed one-star review from the website. When asked about it, he laughs, and highlights the spelling and grammatical mistakes of the post. You see, Laughlin is in the group that embraces Rate My Professors, lightheartedly shrugging off the criticism leveled at him. “I know my style as a teacher, the reviews are more humorous than anything else,” he commented.
Not all in the education circle take it as well as Laughlin, however. Kevin Jenkins, in the marketing department, has never visited the site, nor does he plan to. “I just find the whole process abhorrent. I put a significant amount of effort into my teaching, and would be devastated to face a page full of insults.” Kevin has no pretext that his rating might be high. “I’m a tough grader. Students don’t reflect kindly on people like me.” And he’s right. The worse a grade a student gets, the more likely they are to leave a negative review. Most professors aren’t backing down to the pressure, however: no one we talked to would ease their difficulty as a result of online reviews.
All in all, Barbara’s night went well. With a 3.7 average (I’ll leave out the hotness rating for fear of personal retribution), she was content with the result. Friends threw insults at negative reviewers while repeating the high praise of positive reports. After a few minutes, someone called for another round of drinks, and the conversation moved away from the posts. For the remainder of the night, we regale one another with anecdotes, and the website doesn’t come up. But Barbara will be back on it before long. After all, classes aren’t going to get easier just because some students are mad.